Monday, 30 August 2010

The message in a song and poem

Back in the early 1970s, I wrote and led a church service in which I used some of the pop songs of the time to reflect words and themes from Bible stories. The service started with the first chapter of Genesis and ended with a poem talking of the seven days of destruction that led to the world being destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. Despite the fact that there is enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the world ten times over, I have been repeatedly told this as a deterrent that prevents war. Tell this to the Iraqis or the Afghans or … War still happens because we fail to address the causes.

But it has been a different song dating back to the same time period, (early 1970s) that has been echoing through my thoughts. It is Simon and Garfunkel's song “Richard Cory” that is based on a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1897).

The song shows the contradictions of life in an unequal society that looks on economic wealth as a sign of prosperity and of success. The singer talks of working in Richard Cory's factories, loathing the life that he is living, and wishing that he could be Richard Cory.

Now Richard Cory is said to have wealth, connections, and status. “He had everything a man could want power, wealth, and style” but the final verse ends “So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read: 'Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.”

What is the song telling us? Wealth doesn't bring happiness? Despite Cory's suicide, we still want to be like him?

To me, it is a sad commentary on an unequal society. Neither the poor and enslaved or the rich and enslaved have contentment. What did Richard Cory lack that made him so unhappy? The worker envies Cory's wealth and his life of social status but fails to see that wealth doesn't bring happiness or contentment.

As I look around, I don't see that society has improved. There are still those enslaved to the regimented hours of a factory type environment. But even those who have the appearance of greater freedom are enslaved to the wealth making processes that give the appearance of freedom. Money must be earned to pay for the freedoms that might be enjoyed.

The cravings for wealth continue and unhappiness continues. We need to refocus on those things that bring peace and confidence to people's lives and discard the race for greater wealth and progress.

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